I was privileged to serve as a counselor for Royal Family Kids Camp in the summers of 1996 and 1997. RFKC’s mission statement: “Create life-changing moments for children of abuse.”
Let me just say that I did not go into this venture lightly, but turning everything over to God during my first week at camp resulted in even more faith in Him to walk with me through everything in my life. I wrote this piece after my first year at camp because I wanted to make sure I never forget the many ways God worked in my life and in the life of one particular little girl in my charge.
Beloved, if you ever have the chance to work at camps such as these, don’t hesitate! The rewards will be so much more than you can imagine. And as always, I give glory to God who never, ever lets me down.
Faith for Things Not Seen
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,
the evidence of things not seen.
Lord, how can You possibly ask me to do this? I’m not trained to be a counselor! The words welled up in me as I struggled to understand God’s persistent nudging. Suddenly I could feel His loving arms wrapped around my shoulders like a warm shawl. And then I distinctly heard the words: “My child, I want you to do this for Me.”
Well, how could I ignore that? I bowed to God’s greatness and silently whispered my thanks to Him for being so patient with me. And then I prayed one last thing: God, if You really want me to do this, please enable me for the task.
When God called me to be a counselor at a Christian camp for abused and abandoned children, I thought that this wonderful endeavor would be a blessing to some very needy children. Week after week, the Lord pointed my eyes to the announcement in the church bulletin, yet I kept ignoring the urgings I felt that God wanted me to participate in some way. The word “counselor” stood out more than anything else in that announcement, but I felt completely unequipped for this position.
Four short months later I was at camp. One of the little girls I had in my charge was a particularly tough case. Eight-year-old Debbie* had been shuffled from one foster home to another. She was certain of only one thing: that she could expect abuse or negative treatment on a regular basis. Like so many of these abused children, she learned to bury her true emotions and instead developed a defensive posture, along with the frequent tendency to declare “No!” in response to any suggestions, fun or not.
Debbie’s stubbornness was not easy for any of us to deal with. Whenever we were to start anything new, whether it was crafts, chapel, or even games, Debbie’s standard response was “No!” She would literally crouch down and keep shouting this over and over again. I found myself praying almost constantly that entire week. My prayers would start, “Please God…” and as the Lord helped me deal with each difficulty, they then became, “Thank you, God…”
Our goal was to give these children a week of carefree fun, but Debbie’s tantrums kept testing my patience and that of the camp directors too. After a couple of days of this negative behavior, we had a discussion about sending Debbie home early which greatly upset me. How could we take away this one week of fun from someone who rarely had the chance to do anything enjoyable? I pleaded with the directors to give her another chance and they agreed.
That same night, I found myself unable to sleep because of Debbie’s exceedingly vocal night terrors. She tossed and turned as she relived some terrifying experiences, and mumbled words such as “Don’t!” and “Stop!”
I got up to make sure she was all right and found her sleeping on her stomach facing me. I ran my hand lightly over her forehead, then up and down her back in a soothing manner. She didn’t seem to be sound asleep yet she was not fully awake either. As I kept rubbing her back, she continued to moan in a sing-song way. Even when I talked to her in an attempt to wake her out of her bad dream, she just moaned as if in pain. After about twenty minutes of this, I lay back down and tried to get to sleep, but it was impossible with all her moaning.
I lay wide awake. What to do now? I got up again and tried to quiet Debbie by rubbing her back. Once again, that didn’t work. Tears coursed down my face as I prayed for guidance…for Debbie to stop…to be able to fall asleep again. I was so tired. How was I going to handle the rest of the week?
Once more I tried to sleep. When that didn’t work, I went back to Debbie and tried to wake her up. “Debbie, are you all right? Are you having a bad dream?”
This time she seemed to hear me. The answering groan was different from the others, almost like a real answer.
“Do you want to get up and talk for a while?” I asked.
Debbie’s eyelids flickered and then opened briefly. “Yeah,” her sleep voice croaked as she sat up in her top bunk.
“Come on, I’ll help you climb down.” I assisted a very groggy Debbie by placing one of her feet at a time on each of the bunk bed steps. When she was standing on the floor, I led her to the designated play area next to her bed and sat down, pulling her to a sitting position next to me.
The night air was cold and crisp up here in the mountains, so I put my arm around her and covered us both with a blanket. I looked down at her in anticipation of our little talk. Instead, she leaned her head against my arm and fell asleep again.
I shook my head in disbelief, thinking that maybe all she had needed was a change of position. I decided to sit with her this way for a while and leaned my head back against the wall. In a few minutes, I started praying for her again.
I asked God what I could say or do to help Debbie adjust better because I wanted her to enjoy her camping experience. He showed me that Debbie’s life was full of commands. She was never asked about anything. He then gave me one word: choices.
Even here at camp, she was expected to adhere to rules and a schedule, which in itself is not a bad thing, but difficult for her to deal with. As I prayed about all of this, God showed me that if Debbie was given some limited choices, her responses might be different.
I sat with Debbie like this and prayed for about two hours. I realized then that I had better get some sleep before this day officially started. I eased Debbie away from me. “Do you want to sleep down here the rest of the night?” I whispered to her.
She seemed to understand and gave a sleep nod, so I slipped her down onto the bed and fetched her pillow from her bunk. Lifting her head gently, I placed the pillow beneath it and then tucked the blanket around her better. I stood next to her for a few minutes to make sure she was all right. Now it was time to get back to my own bed.
It was already 4:30 as I fell into a light, fitful sleep. I had to be up again in about an hour. This time Debbie slept peacefully.
Several hours later, Debbie started her usual tantrum when informed it was time for chapel. Before she could get carried away, I told her she had the choice of going to chapel with me or to the nurse’s office. Of course, she chose to stay with the nurse. But not more than fifteen minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and there stood Debbie. “I want to be here with you,” she whispered.
I smiled at her and nodded to the nurse, who had escorted Debbie to chapel. As we stood to sing, I felt Debbie’s small hand slip into mine. Thank you, God… Before that week was over, little Debbie asked Jesus Christ into her heart.
When we returned home, all who had served at camp were treated to a special dinner at church. The counselors each received a certificate inscribed with a Scripture passage our leaders thought best described us. Much to my surprise, I saw that my certificate contained Hebrews 11:1, the verse which begins a chapter all about faith.
Faith. I had started out on this journey with a great deal of skepticism. I didn’t understand why God would call someone like me to serve Him in this way, but He kept me going by faith throughout the entire week and left me with a new understanding of His enabling power. Whenever God resolves to use us in His work, He will enable us to do it!
And by the way, Debbie was in my charge again the following year —but what a changed Debbie! This time she helped me take care of my other little charge, a girl who had been brain-damaged from so much physical abuse that she sometimes had behavioral problems. After that week together, Debbie told me she couldn’t wait for her turn to be a counselor at that camp. And ten years later, Debbie did go through training to be a counselor at that same camp.
The lesson I learned through all of this comes back to me as I continue to learn what true faith is. Each of us can“count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience” (James 1:2-3).
As for me, I continually pray that I will always be willing to answer God’s call in my life to walk by faith. To do otherwise is to miss a huge blessing!
*Not her real name for her privacy and protection.